Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure and Talent to Shape the World, by Kathy LeMay (Book Review)

Originally posted on my personal blog 4/19/2010.

The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure, and Talent to Shape the World, by Kathy LeMay
copyright 2009
240 pages

It's National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and I can't think of a better time to talk about Kathy LeMay's new book, The Generosity Plan.

Actually, I could talk about Kathy LeMay and her work on any given day of any given week.  As I mentioned previously, I first met Kathy at a Women's Funding Network conference in Toronto in 2004.  Even while battling the flu (or some such horrible illness), Kathy inspired all of us with a speech where she admitted that she'd just written a sizeable (for her) check to WFN and in doing so, proudly proclaimed herself to be a philanthropist.

To the hundreds of us gathered in the room, it seemed that Kathy had been considering herself a philanthropist for years.  She certainly had the background, from her work as a volunteer in refugee camps in the former Yugoslavia and launching a successful consulting practice.  But what looked so easy to us in the audience really wasn't, as she writes of that transformational experience in The Generosity Plan.

"To me, writing $25, $50, and even $100 checks wasn't enough to say, 'I am a philanthropist.' Philanthropy still meant big money.  It wasn't until I turned thirty-one years old - after seventeen years of activism everywhere from Massachusetts to the former Yugoslavia - that I stepped in front of a crowd of four hundred at a philanthropy conference and, with my body shaking, named myself a philanthropist. The minute I said it, two women jumped from their chairs and cheered .... One woman said, 'That speech was the permission I needed to make philanthropy my own.'"  (pg. xv)

(Can I just say on a personal level how absolutely so cool it was to see this speech that I attended - and which remains one of the best I have ever heard - mentioned in this book?)

Kathy writes that we all have that power within us to become a philanthropist, to support the causes we care about regardless of how much or how little we have to give.  It doesn't matter if we have five million dollars or five dollars, if we have five days a week or five minutes a day.  What matters is being bold enough to take that first step toward becoming your own definition of a philanthropist.

"Boldness asks you to come out of your comfort zone, if only for a moment.  How do you know if you're stepping into boldness? You know you are being your best bold self when you feel excited, nervous, and hopeful in the same moment. You know you are being your best bold self when the action you are about to take will change you inside. Again, bold doesn't have to be big and flashy, but it should be daring for you. When you are bold for you and your own life, you can feel the change. When you are bold for something bigger than you, you make change." (pg. 147-148)

What if we want to be bold, to do something more meaningful with our gifts, but don't know how to get started - or even what causes we are drawn to? Kathy shows us how.  She takes the reader step-by-step through examples in her personal life and others, and from there, the reader begins to learn how to create his or her personal generosity plan based on causes and issues that you were attracted to as a child, or ones that were important to your family, or those impacting your life now.

She also gives concrete suggestions for working that plan and for developing a network of support for when staying the course becomes difficult. Because, as in any relationship, there is a cycle to one's philanthropic giving and involvement, especially when "our" cause gets swept up in the latest issue that the media or a particular celebrity is touting.

"...the real change happens over the long haul. The difference is made when we stay the course with our cause versus getting involved in everything that becomes visible or high profile. Staying the course lets you know that your vision is sound, your boldness intact, and your authenticity is front and center. Staying the course means that you will be there for your cause through the good times and bad, successes and drawbacks, wins and losses, and ups and downs. Staying the course means you truly believe in what you say you believe and you will stand in this effort for as long as it takes." (pg. 151)

We make all kinds of plans in our lives, Kathy writes, but yet most of us fail to plan thoughtfully for our charitable giving.  How many of us know how to research a nonprofit organization we're interested in supporting, beyond reading its website or annual report?  (Hint: Charity Navigator and GuideStar are great for this.) Or what to look for when we do find this information?  So often, our giving is done sincerely (the raffle tickets purchased from the neighborhood kids, the box of Girl Scout cookies bought from your coworker) but not purposefully in a way that can make a strategic, meaningful, transformative impact on our world and those in need. 

As someone who has spent her entire professional life encouraging others to be generous with their time, talent, and treasure to a variety of nonprofits, The Generosity Plan is a helpful book for nonprofit volunteers and donors.  If you're new to the idea of philanthropy or volunteering, or if you've been involved in charitable causes for years, there is no shortage of suggestions.  Indeed, there is something in here that everyone can begin to use immediately, in our own way and through using our own talents and giving of our own treasure, on the path of being a change agent for our world.

Visit Kathy's website, The Generosity Plan, for more information on the book, other reviews, and upcoming events where she will be speaking. 

FTC disclaimer:  I borrowed this book from the library, and although I consider Kathy a friend and am admittedly a bit of a fangirl of her work, I was not compensated in any way for this review. 

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